The Man Who Built The Taj

The Man Who Built The Taj

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Only a man with enormous resources, both monetary and artistic, could have built the Taj Mahal. That man was Shah-Jahan, fifth in a line of Muslim rulers called Mughals who controlled northern India from 1526 to 1858. So impressed were European visitors with the exotic opulence of the Mughal court that they coined the term "mogul."

Now, at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, a magnificent manuscript is on view that provides a detailed window on this world. Entitled the Padshahnama, it is a handwritten history of the first ten years of Shah-Jahan's reign (1628-58), complete with 44 paintings of significant events such as battles, beheadings, hunting outings, court scenes and the exploits of his sons. Owned by the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, the bound manuscript has been taken apart for conservation, providing a rare opportunity to see all of the paintings at the same time. Before returning to Windsor Castle, the Padshahnama will travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

One person we never see in the manuscript is Shah-Jahan's beloved wife Mumtaz; nor do we see the Taj, the famous tomb he had built for her after she died in 1631. The only women we see are court dancers and other entertainers; it was taboo to depict royal women. Shah-Jahan himself lived the last eight years of his life a prisoner of his son and successor, Awrangzeb--locked in a fort from which he could look across the river at the Taj.

By Constance Bond

Only a man with enormous resources, both monetary and artistic, could have built the Taj Mahal. That man was Shah-Jahan, fifth in a line of Muslim rulers called Mughals who controlled northern India from 1526 to 1858. So impressed were European visitors with the exotic opulence of the Mughal court that they coined the term "mogul."

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